When sudden changes occur in the weather or we overexert ourselves during physical activity, those of us who experience, or who already had, muscle and/or joint pain treat ourselves with the traditional prescriptions of conventional anti-inflammatories. There is a general tendency for us to take anti-inflammatories every time something hurts, as if they were water. Nevertheless, the damage caused to our bodies (liver, stomach, etc.) by anti-inflammatories is highly significant if these are abused. Symptomatic use of analgesics, such as paracetamol, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is almost always the first treatment option, and ibuprofen is one of the most widely used anti-rheumatic drugs.
It is therefore necessary to resort to another type of product which are less harmful for our bodies. One of the most effective products, which is widely backed up by scientific studies, is the arnica plant extract. The most widely used plants with local anti-inflammatory action in phytotherapy are arnica (Arnica montana) and, in a distant second place, devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens).
Arnica, also commonly known as mountain tobacco, is a plant that is defined as an ideal medicinal plant for “individuals who have suffered a significant fall or have injured themselves at work” in botanical texts dating as far back as the 17th century. It has many qualities from a topical perspective. First and foremost, it provides rapid relief from discomfort in the joints (including knees, elbows, shoulders and hands) and in individuals who suffer from arthrosis and live with chronic pain, and also for muscle cramps, blows, bumps, rheumatism, sprains, frostbite, etc. So what is the reason for this? As it happens, it causes an immediate calm in bruises from bumps and contusions thanks to localised reactivation of blood vessel circulation which reduces inflammation.
It is a herbaceous, perennial mountain plant originally from central and southern Europe, found mainly in the Alps and the Pyrenees. It is a perennial plant with an erect stem that grows to between 20 and 50 centimetres tall and has oval green leaves, reddish roots and yellow flowers with a strong smell.
It is a natural product which has been effectively used in the treatment of bone and muscle pain, in painful abnormalities resulting from spinal cord compression and as an analgesic medication following surgical interventions. It contains essential oils, alkaloid arnicine, glycosides, flavones, carotenes, mucilages and magnesia. Its main property is that it increases local blood flow due to its rubefacient effect, and its ability to relieve pain and improve muscle and nerve weakness. It is therefore very widely used for contusions, bumps, bruises, sprains, rheumatism, lower back pain, varicose veins, haemorrhoids and muscle pain.
Its most noteworthy component is helenalin sesquiterpene, which may be poisonous if ingested at high doses, but when applied topically in the form of creams, gels, etc., it has been scientifically proven to have an anti-inflammatory and antitumour effect, as well as an analgesic and antibacterial effect.
Studies have shown that the gel from this medicinal plant is able to relieve the pain and improve joint movement and stiffness in individuals with arthrosis in the fingers at the same level as ibuprofen. It demonstrates that arnica is an effective alternative to the use of NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) against this type of conditions, as arnica also prevents the gastric irritation caused by treatment with ibuprofen. Its use is therefore particularly recommended in individuals with stomach problems.
Although it is difficult to establish the mechanism of action of a plant due to the variety of its components, in vitro clinical trials have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of arnica are based mainly on the inhibition of NF-kappa B transcription factor, which is a key part of the immunological and anti-inflammatory processes. This protein regulates the transcription of various inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukins, as well as that of the genes encoding COX-2 (an enzyme which favours inflammation).
There is a large amount of natural products on the market with anti-inflammatory properties which contain arnica, such as sports massage creams combining arnica and other natural plant extracts (devil’s claw, calendula, St John’s wort and peppermint oil, among others, as well as PHYSIORELAX FORTE PLUS cream) for symptomatic relief of joint and muscle pain. However, we must be well informed about the quality and origin of the extracts used in any creams, gels and ointments purchased at pharmacies, herbal shops and specialised phytotherapy shops, so that we use the best quality product possible.